CFC SB 772 Fact Sheet: Citizens for Fire Safety ‘ A Toxic Front Group

Front group: An organization that purports to be independent voluntary association or charitable organization, but actually serves the interest of the sponsoring party whose identity is often hidden. Certain front groups are seemingly grassroots-based coalitions that are actually funded by an industry trade association or public relations firm.

Citizens for Fire Safety: The Chemical Industry’s Front Group

Chemical manufacturers spent over eight million dollars to kill a toxic furniture ban in 2007 and they are at it again. The four principal corporations that manufacture PBDEs are Albemarle, Israel Chemicals Limited (ICL), Chemtura, and Tosoh. When they saw that some of their flame retardant products were coming under regulatory pressure, they contracted with Burson-Marsteller, the giant global public relations firm, to change public and legislative perceptions about the hazards associated with PBDEs.

Burson-Marsteller represents major chemical and oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil and Monsanto, as well as controversial businesses such as Blackwater and foreign military juntas. Burson-Marsteller also represented Union Carbide, whose facility in India was responsible for the Bhopal Disaster.

Just as in other campaigns to promote and defend its bottom line, industry has developed a strategy relying on a front group called ‘Citizens for Fire Safety’ (CFFS) to campaign against SB 772 and California’s effort to regulate PBDE flame retardants.

In California, a related organization called ‘Californians for Fire Safety’ was created by the public relations consulting firm Jacobson Communications, and is explicitly listed on the lobbyist registration website. ‘Burson-Marsteller, on behalf of the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, Doing Business As Californians for Fire Safety,’ spent $6,673,215.90 over the 4 quarters at the start of the 2007’2008 legislative session. It terminated its lobbying firms at the end of January 2008, and those firms picked up Citizens for Fire Safety Institute on Feb 1, 2008.

Citizens for Fire Safety: Truth in Advertising?

Citizens for Fire Safety describes itself as ” a coalition of fire professionals, educators, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders” but in fact is moving a special interest corporate agenda for a handful of actors. CFFS builds its membership list by attracting the support of organizations and individuals who may be unaware of its chemical industry motives by using misrepresentation of what a given proposed policy would accomplish.

The front group seeks to blunt the rising influence of actual citizen coalitions’of environmental health and justice communities working with physicians, ‘moms’ groups, firefighters, children’s health advocates and others’that have formed to support restricting brominated flame retardants, due to the environmental and public health concerns they pose, and the ready availability of safer, cost- and performance effective alternatives.

The funding for CFFS is not described on their website. Although CFFS presents itself as a grassroots group, it does not appear to solicit funding from the communities it purports to represent. However, it spends significant resources to defeat legislation restricting flame retardants. For example, in California, CFFS reported spending $2.6 million in 07-08 legislative season in order to defeat SB 706, and has spent over $200,000 in the first quarter of 2009. CFFS’s lobbying expenditures for the second quarter are expected to skyrocket.

While the bromine industry attempts to use front groups like Citizens for Fire Safety to legitimize their profit-driven agenda and continue putting their poisons in our baby products and furniture, fire fighters, health professionals and truly grassroots organizations are taking a stand to protect people from fires and protect their health.

SB 772 supporters include the Friends of the Earth, Consumer Federation of California, California Professional Firefighters, Environmental Working Group, Making our Milk Safe (MOMS), and other health and environmental advocates.